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Rural Education Report: Teacher Challenges

Published On: Feb 04 2014 07:18:00 PM AKST

Rural Education Report: Teacher Challenges


Like many Yupik tales, teaching in the Yupiit School District takes a lot of commitment.

In a region immersed in its culture, and where the majority of the teachers come from outside the community, the experience of brand new surroundings and students can be overwhelming. 

Akiachak first grade teacher Lindi Quaine knows what that’s like. In her fourth year in the district, the Michigan native is still getting used to living in rural Alaska.

"I ordered a treadmill. It cost me pretty penny to get it here, but it was worth it to me," she said.

It's a sense of isolation Akiak fourth grade teacher Breann Willis understands well. Originally from Oregon, in her first year she quickly learned teaching in the bush can be an adventure.

"I tried to do the roller coaster clap and (the students) all look at me kind of funny and I said, ‘how many people know what a roller coaster is, how many people have been on a roller coaster?’ and they had no idea," Willis said.

The Yupiit School District has had its share of teacher retention problems. Many of them come back and forth from the outside to three small villages along the Yukon Kuskokwim. How they feel about their rural life is directly connected to the success of their students.

The obstacles can be extreme, which often means good teachers don't stay long. In the past, some have even left after the first semester.

"Some people don't want this rural isolated environment,” said Yupiit superintendent Kim Langton. “Some people want it."

Staff members are encouraged to embrace the children and the culture to create a sense of belonging.

"We believe it’s important for these people and their heritage and their feeling of who they are, that it is valued and it is valuable," said Langton. 

It's a bridge that's helping the district improve the proficiency of its students.

"The longer you are here the more success the teachers see," said Quaine. "The kids, my coworkers and the people of the community, they are my family when I'm here."

For now, she said she’s invested and sticking around. The students hope that will won't end anytime soon. "It will be really sad when I leave," she added.

The Yupiit School district has around 420 to 450 students in Akiak, Akiachak, and Tulaksak, with only 45 to 50 teachers.

Everything from reduced housing to professional development are some of the things offered to keep staff around.